WTVT Anchor Bill Murphy: A five-week-long trial involving WTVT and two former news employees is over tonight.
WTVT Anchor Kelly Ring: The Hillsborough County jury took nearly six hours to return the verdict in the case. Jane Akre and Steve Wilson sued Fox 13 saying the station fired them in violation of Florida’s whistleblower law. The married couple says they were fired for refusing to lie in stories about artificial bovine growth hormone. WTVT’s management denies the allegations and says the couple was fired legally in accordance with their employment contracts. Independent reporter Julie Prince has been covering this case and has more on the jury’s verdict.
[Why are the station’s continued
denials part of the lead to this story? Viewers
have already heard the charges and the denials.
Isn’t this story is about what a jury decided after hearing both
sides and reviewing all the evidence?]
[The following is the transcript of Reporter Julie Prince’s report on the verdict.]
Judge Ralph Steinberg: Has the jury reach a verdict?
Jury Forman John Tagler: Yes we have…
Judge Ralph Steinberg: or verdicts?
Jury Foreman: Yes
we have, Judge
Reporter Julie Prince: Plaintiffs Jane Akre and Steve Wilson held hands as the court
clerk read the jury’s unanimous verdict.
Court Clerk: No.
Reporter Prince: The jury decided that WTVT did not violate Florida’s so-called whistleblower law when the station fired Steve Wilson. However, the jury found in favor of part of Jane Akre’s claim. The jury agreed with Akre that WTVT fired her for a threat she made to the station.
[False and Misleading:
What happened to the clear, unambiguous language the station reported at
6 p.m., namely “the jury found the station violated the state’s
whistleblower law when they (fired Akre).”
The jury decided only one claim by
Jane Akre—whether she was suspended, locked out, and ultimately fired for
refusing to participate in the production of a false and distorted story AND/OR
threatening to blow the whistle to the FCC about a story that was false,
distorted or slanted. Those
elements were not separate claims, they were part and parcel of the one, SAME
claim. The jury did NOT, as WTVT
mis-reported, find “in favor of part of Jane Akre’s claim.” The found—unanimously—that by the greater weight of
the evidence, she met her burden of proof on her single claim .
This is not a news story…it’s another legal brief!]
According to court testimony, Akre told WTVT management she’d notify the Federal Communications Commission of the airing of an invest report which she felt was untrue and against an FCC policy banning the intentional falsification of the news.
[Misleading: “According to testimony” as opposed to “according to the evidence” which included more than mere testimony? The evidence also included documents that proved Akre and Wilson threatened orally and in writing to report Fox’s misconduct to the FCC]
The jury awarded Akre a total of $425,000 in damages.
Co-plaintiff Jane Akre: You know, it was never was about money. I mean, I’m very pleased because now we can pay our
Fox 13 representatives say the jury through its verdict clearly stated
that the station did not tell Akre and Wilson to falsify and distort the news
through their BGH story. They also
say the one part of Akre’s claim the jury found against WTVT doesn’t deal
with news distortion at all.
Again, the jury found in favor of the single claim Akre made, as
Fox L-A Attorney Theodore Russell: That is a separate issue having to do with threats to go to the FCC. That does not have to do with distortion of the news. It does not have to do with falsification of the news.
Reporter Prince: However plaintiff Steve Wilson interprets the jury’s verdict on Akre’s claim differently.
Co-plaintiff Steve Wilson: They’re saying that this company knew what it was doing, that this company knew it was slanting and distorting the news and when she threatened to go to the government and to blow the whistle on that, they fired her.
Reporter Prince: Meanwhile, the head of Fox 13’s news department feels his newsroom’s reputation has been restored.
WTVT News V-P Phillip Metlin: Our name has been besmirched across the country and across the internet and I think today is a wonderful day for Fox 13 because I think we are completely vindicated on the finding of this jury that we do not distort news, we do not lie about the news, we do not slant the news, we are professionals.
[Where is the balance to this opinion that is clearly contrary to the facts as written on the jury’s verdict form? Fox insisted throughout the trial that balance was their guiding light. Viewers who catch only this comment and are not paying attention to the rest of the story may not be left wondering how can a jury finding of liability and an award of nearly half-a-million dollars be complete vindication?]
Reporter Prince: The plaintiffs seemed relieved this trial is over.
Co-plaintiff Jane Akre: You know, I’m going to try and get a life back, that’s what I’m going to do right now. I’m going to sort of chill out for a while and not be near attorneys or courtrooms or anything else because it’s been three years of hell.
Reporter Prince: Julie Prince for Fox 13 news.
WTVT Anchor Kelly Ring: Jane Akre’s attorneys are undecided about appealing the first part of her claim denied by the jury. SW says he will not appeal the jury’s verdict in his case. Fox 13’s attorneys say they will appeal the damages awarded to Akre.
[Still misleading: “Akre’s
attorneys are undecided about appealing the first part of her claim”? Akre had one claim. The
jury had one verdict as to her. Fox
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